So as usual, I’ve been slacking here. I swear there’s a good reason. I’ve just…ya know…been busy and junk. But in my off time I’ve read a lot and watched a lot and listened to a lot, so I’ve got plenty to talk about. That being said, posts here will most likely stay sporadic and begin drifting away from science journalism, but I’ll try and keep the occasional science post in the mix.
But not today. Today I’m going to talk about graphic novels.
I am not a graphic novel aficionado. I know only a handful of artists, fewer writers, and feel almost inevitably overwhelmed wandering around a comic book store. And I doubt I’m alone in that. But I enjoy the medium a lot, and I think it has more potential for remarkable and important storytelling than a lot of people give it credit for. So for today’s post, I’m going to talk about a few graphic novels I’ve read recently, and why you should read them.
This is probably my number one pick at the moment. I heard a lot about Saga online, from a variety of sources, and so I checked it out a while back. As most reviews will tell you, the storyline is equal parts space opera, fantasy, and imaginative fun. The art is, without fail, stunning. Not being an expert on graphic novels, I can’t tell you much about Fiona Staples and her previous artwork, but I can tell you that Saga is stupidly gorgeous and that it would be a worthwhile purchase just for the pictures. Luckily, it’s also a worthwhile purchase because of the story. Combining the strange with the epic, Saga throws two quite literally star-crossed lovers into the fray of an intergalactic war along with their child, deemed an abomination and now on the run from both sides of the interstellar conflict. It’s got everything you could possibly want: sex, violence, bounty hunters, ghosts, family drama, and a rocket ship tree. It also sports a nice meta-theme running throughout, calling attention to the overarching questions it raises about the worth and strength of cultural differences and identities in the face of human connection. It just so happens that it manages to do so while also being hilarious and beautiful. I’ve gotten through the first two volumes of this now and can’t wait for the third to come out.
East of West
I picked this up in a comic book store on vacation for the sole reason that it was on a list of the best graphic novels of 2013 (I don’t remember what list, or I’d link out to it, but you can probably find a similar one somewhere). East of West has a gritty, futuristic, Wild West aesthetic to it and a strange narrative to match. It follows the four horsemen of the apocalypse as they are reborn and fall into political infighting as Death strikes out on his own for a classic sort of Western revenge plot. I don’t like it is as much as Saga (though that would be tough), but it certainly is a damn good graphic novel. Only one volume is out thus far, so it’s difficult to say how good it’ll be in the long run, but my hopes are pretty high.
Rasl caught my eye largely because one of my favorite writers, Junot Díaz, has a blurb out for it, calling it damn near a masterpiece. That’s high praise in my opinion, so I checked it out, and I got hooked pretty quick. The art style is strange and at times unsettling and the narrative is a mind-bending, multiple-dimension-spanning whirlwind of government intrigue based around an art thief/physicist. Unique to say the least. Did I mention it’s heavy in Nikolai Tesla? Because it is. Do you really need more reasons to read this? The artist and author, Jeff Smith, did another wildly successful comic series, Bone, geared towards a younger audience, and Rasl has him stretching his legs with a much more adult storyline. I highly recommend getting a look at Rasl sometime; I doubt you’ll regret it.
Y: The Last Man
I’m pretty behind the times on this one I think, given that Y’s original run was from 2002 to 2008. Regardless, I burned through the first volume of the deluxe edition (which reduces the series from 10 volumes to 5) in one night and now can’t wait to get through the other four once I get a hold of them. The series chronicles the events following a plague that suddenly strikes earth, killing all organisms in possession of a Y chromosome. Except one. And his pet monkey. The two are swept along into a dystopian, all-female world as it tries to grapple with the simultaneous loss of the vast majority of heads of state, religious leaders, artists, and public figures, while also dealing with the very personal losses of men in everyday lives. As much a critique of the human psyche in the face of apocalypse as it is an examination of gender roles and discrimination in the contemporary world, Y: The Last Man is a remarkable achievement, not just for graphic novels, but for literature in general. Like I said, I’ve only read the one volume, but it was a pretty impressive volume. For me, the writing here was center stage though, with the artwork, while solid and no doubt impressive, was more secondary to the plot. It’s worth noting that the writer for Y is the same writer as Saga. Evidently he just knows how to write things I like.
Graphic novels are a world I have little to no knowledge of. It’s a tough culture to break into, largely because of its immense and seemingly impenetrable history ranging from the expansive canon of weekly superhero comics to heavier fare like Watchmen or Sandman. But I think it’s a culture well-worth an attempt to get into. You may not understand it completely, or at all, but you will definitely get some badass reads out of it.